The Twitter-sphere erupted in outrage last week, after images of Ellen DeGeneres sitting next to George W. Bush at a Dallas football game circulated the social media platform. Despite the numbers demonstrating that Twitter isn’t the premier social media platform and therefore, the collective outrage on Twitter shouldn’t be used as a reflection of societal views; Ellen was compelled to give a statement on the matter. After ruminating on the scandalous event over the weekend, she addressed the outrage on her show.
What followed her explanation was a plethora of narrow-minded commentary. And I have to say, I am baffled by the rejection of such remarks. What alternate universe am I now living in that we reject forgiveness and we reject grace within the span of a week, collectively and publicly?
As if anything Mark Ruffalo has to say means anything at all to me, his tweet in response to her and others supporting her, was astounding. Not only that, but Vanity Fair’s proclamations that “unconditional kindness” is “a brand” that is “incompatible with reality” reveal a shockingly stark optimism of society, overall. Vanity Fair asks: “What are the parameters of such kindness?”
From what I have been forced to deduce, based on the general social media consensus, which I guess suggests how society operates; it’s that Amber Guyger does not deserve forgiveness and now Ellen doesn’t deserve the right to see the good in others and offer grace. There is a limit to how much unconditional kindness you can extend, apparently. And social media and the mainstream media are the authoritative messengers that compel us to embrace this new alternate reality of “truth”.
Vanity Fair claims that Ellen’s brand of kindness is an “imagined utopia” that is seemingly “out of touch with reality”. I now really feel as if I have been transported into an alternate universe. Is kindness an imagined utopia? If that is the case, what is the point of fighting any good fight at all?
Interestingly enough, the party that believes in other imagined utopias—say for instance, socialism as a functional economic system for a country as large as the United States, finds Ellen’s stance contemptible at best, and elitist, privileged, racist, and homophobic at its worst. Which imagined utopias should we cling to, and which ones shall we disregard?
Unconditional Love and Parameters
If we limit— or put “parameters” around— unconditional kindness, that means first and foremost that we are complacent with the practice of holding two contradictory ideas in opposition. I mean, I am all for holding the tension of opposites, but prescribing to the idea that unconditional kindness requires parameters is just idiotic. It’s u-n-c-o-n-d-i-t-i-o-n-a-l. Which means limitless. Which means you don’t put expectations around forgiveness. Similarly, we don’t do that with love, either.
Society has been forced to confront reality almost too blatantly. Brandt Jean offered up forgiveness without checking to see if he had permission from the rest of society. Ellen DeGeneres offered grace and kindness before she checked with her PR staff. How dare people act on their own convictions without checking to see if the social media stratosphere would approve of such messaging!
But Bush is Evil!
What is evil? Most of us have never experienced actual evil. Evil doesn’t exist outside the reality in which we perceive it. We only know what evil is so long as someone defines it for us. And though our minds perceive many things considered evil; evil is, just as morality can be in many cases, relative.
And because morality is relative—sometimes; words can be subjective—sometimes, ambiguous even, in other instances. When this happens, confusion can ensue. Confusion leaves us conflicted. We are distracted so much by a new presentation of evil that we don’t stop to consider that which we are identifying as evil is actually evil.
Evil once represented an act that was so cruel, so grotesque, so undignified that speaking about it out loud was just too much. Now, well, you’re evil if you use a plastic straw. You’re evil if you don’t support abortion. Evil can be as simple as an ex showing up with a new flavor at the bar that you frequent. Evil can mean anything. And when it can mean anything, it means absolutely nothing. When evil can be anything to anybody, that means that not all people know how you are defining the word. Context matters, obviously, but how often do we get context in a tweet?
I think that Derrida warned us about this possibility: the potentiality for words to become so subjective and fluid that their definitions could not stand the test of time. More so, words could not hold up against the necessity of iteration, the possibility of repetition. Is a word that is repeatedly used recognized as the same word for everyone, or does it lose its value?
Forgiveness has lost its value. The word has been confounded by societal impressions that aim to diminish symbolism and meaning altogether. What some would consider to be “powers and principalities”.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
Apparently, evil now looks like sitting with a former President of the United States at a football game. Is watching a basketball game with Obama evil as well, or does that just apply to some people? How consistent will we be with these standards we set?
Is George W. Bush evil? I cannot confirm or deny such a charge. I don’t know him. I only know what was revealed to me thanks to the media. That’s all I really must go on. And as far as I can tell, there is a lot of reason to disregard much of what media tells me is “truth” as they report on it.
What I do know is that there is a cautionary verse in the Good Book that warns about making judgments of others without first removing the plank from my own eye. If we are sinners, then none are good?
But then, Isaiah comes to mind when I consider whether I want to judge another, or not:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20)
I know that the policies under the Bush administration resulted in the deaths of innocents. But, do I really want to compare the death tolls of the wars our country has participated in, and then order them from greatest to least and point my self-righteous finger at one former President over the other? I mean, we could bring up the “concentration camps” that the Obama administration employed, but why keep record of wrongs?
What good would that do? Are any of us good?
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)
The Transmutation of Forgiveness
So long as words lose their definitive meanings, we will remain a divided society. The reason for this is because words that hold sacred meaning for billions of people are being reduced to defining the antipodes of what it represents.Which word am I referring to, you ask?
Have we lost sight of what kind of weight that word carries? Have we forgotten that forgiveness is a demonstration of loving the enemy?
Forgiveness does not mean acceptance. Forgiveness is not an excuse for the transgression. Forgiveness does not mean condonement. Forgiveness does not erase the pain or the past. Forgiveness is a step in the process of healing.
Forgiveness, for Christians especially, is about canceling the debt of the trespass. Social and Main-stream media would have you convinced that forgiveness as we know it comes with a price. Dues must be paid. The debt cannot just be erased, according to the social dogma that pervades Twitter-sphere.
The influence of this new dogmatic approach to forgiveness is obvious. I have been baffled by the amount of self-proclaiming Christians that condemn Ellen for her acts of unconditional kindness.
The dogmatic approach that cancel culture takes is one that resembles that old “eye for an eye” analogy that I was informed was contrary to the teachings of Christ. We are not under the Law, for the Law has been fulfilled. We are under a new covenant; one that says, “love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you.” Praying for those who persecute you, as Marianne Williamson says, it’s much easier than holding contempt for them. Above all, forgive.
Forgiveness is Freely Given
Confusion has been the overreaching influence as to why forgiveness is so hard to embrace. The term forgiveness has been conflated with the term “acceptance”. But for me, just as I see God’s justice as a different kind of justice than how society defines justice; I tend to consider that God’s forgiveness is much different than what we know it to look like in practice.
Take for instance a husband that forgives his wife after she cheats on him. Yes, he forgives her. He remains married to her. But there are times that he brings up the feelings from that incident. He doesn’t forget it just because he forgave the act.
He doesn’t hold the infidelity against his wife when he is upset. He doesn’t use her past transgressions as a weaponized attack he can launch at her whenever he is having a rough day. But he has the potential to. He can use it to shame her and guilt her into performing menial tasks that he sees as a form of repayment. So long as he still claims to have “forgiven” her, he can wield power over her and manipulate her to his advantage.
Is that what God’s forgiveness is like?
Or, does God’s forgiveness look so radically different, that as soon as you have trespassed, God forgives. Before you sin, God forgives. If forgiveness precedes confession and repentance as Luther and Calvin once declared, then that would mean that forgiveness precedes belief, as William Paul Young was declared. Which would mean, at least from my line of thinking, that if I am called to live a Christ-like life, as I believe I have been, that means that I must freely give forgiveness, without any expectation that my forgiveness will transform another.
Giving forgiveness so freely is meant to transform me, first. It is about disconnecting from the signal of pain, anger, and contempt that a trespass has caused. Those emotional connections to the past transgression have already initiated a metamorphosis. A trespass takes us from a space of trust, certainty, and comfort into a space of anger and discomfort, even uncertainty. Is that not a change from our previous homeostasis?
Which means, the emotional reaction to the situation is meant to be a motivator for change—from within. It begins the process. That anger is a tool, certainly. But it is not a continuous stream of fuel. It’s just a spark. It needs oxygen to grow into something fiercer.
The problem is, we get warm from that first spark and we convince ourselves that the temporary warmth is good enough and requires minimal work. We know we could transform that small spark into a burning fire, but our misperceptions convince us that it’s too much work. It also requires that we move out from our small, sheltered space of comfort out into the openness of potentiality. That anger needs oxygen, otherwise, it chokes out all possibility for the remainder of the transformation. It leaves us with a deformed, incomplete transformation.
Anger is merely a step of many steps toward such an incredible and magical metamorphosis. We hinder ourselves from growth when we cling to our emotions. It’s no wonder giving forgiveness so freely is difficult for us; we struggle to freely give up our anger. We don’t want to freely give anything, but we damn well expect others to hand out forgiveness when we mess up.
God says: Everyone is forgiven. Human egotism says: Not everyone should be forgiven, and I have a list of reasons as to why.
Ellen DeGeneres cancelled the debt, but social commentary demands Bush #paythedebt.
There’s a paper trail, for God’s sake. There’s a record to be kept. We must keep people accountable for their evil acts. There is blood on Bush’s hands. How dare Ellen! She does not hold him individually responsible and condemn him.
“I’m famous enough to sit with a President and I like it.” “If you’re fed up with whining about Ellen and George bush, it’s probably because you’re white.” “Privilege is Ellen DeGeneres explaining her friendship with George Bush by saying ’just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean I’m not gonna be friends with them,’ as if what they disagree about is who was best dressed at the Emmy’s…” #BoycottEllen
And so, the debt must be paid, in full, with interest; including a public apology, following a public humiliation, and after reparations and a bequeathing of dividends for generations to come. An apology won’t be good enough. Any form of reparations or repayment would never be enough.
Forgiveness isn’t about what society finds agreeable, anyway. Forgiveness is for the individual, not the collective. It’s only that the individual is meant to influence the collective by demonstrating acts of unconditional kindness and forgiveness. The individual doesn’t owe a reason to Twitter, society, or the world, for why she doesn’t hold every sin, every mark, every misguided choice against a person she befriends.
Furthermore, did anyone consider the possibility that Bush, like Obama, changed his stance on gay marriage? Is it not possible that he connected with Ellen, or any other gay person and changed his mind? You know, repentance: to change one’s mind. Is it not possible that he had a life-changing interaction that made him realize his stance in the past was wrong? Or have we abandoned the optimism that we once held that change is possible— that people can change their minds? Do we no longer believe that people can be transformed?
If that is the case, if we are so quick to abandon hope for change, then protesting is irrelevant, advocating for any cause is meaningless, and the idea that anyone can change their mind is altogether hopeless.
I cannot help but wonder; why does society think so little of humanity? Why do you have such little faith in others?